The county's top civil lawyer told a jury Tuesday she would never forget her "unpleasant meeting" with then-University Medical Center chief Lacy Thomas.
He recently had taken over the financially troubled public hospital when he summoned Mary-Anne Miller and the deputy district attorney assigned to the hospital to a lunch meeting in 2004.
Thomas made clear he was displeased with the legal representation the district attorney's office was giving him, Miller testified.
He told her state laws were interfering with his ability to compete with private hospitals, she said.
"He said he ran a county hospital and what he needed from a county attorney was to find a way around the statutes or get out of the way," Miller said.
Miller was the first witness in the trial of Thomas, who faces charges of theft and misconduct by a public officer. The charges stem from contracts UMC awarded during his three-year tenure as chief executive officer to ACS Consultant Co., Premier Alliance Management, Crystal Communications, Frasier Systems Group and Las Vegas-based TBL Construction.
Prosecutor Scott Mitchell told the jury during opening statements Tuesday that the contracts to Thomas' friends and associates from Chicago were unnecessary and duplicated services that were already available using county or hospital resources.
"It appears those contracts were awarded because of friendship, which is against the law," Mitchell said.
Thomas failed to disclose the friendships, a county requirement, and often avoided putting the contracts out for competitive bid, he said.
The contracts cost taxpayers $11 million, he said.
But Thomas' lawyer, Dan Albregts, said his client only brought in his Chicago contacts because he had worked with them before and trusted they could help solve the major problems facing the hospital.
"All this man was trying to do was run the hospital the best he knew how," he said.
Thomas ran John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County, formerly Cook County Hospital, in Chicago for 10 years before coming to Las Vegas.
Among the contracts in dispute was one for Frasier Systems, owned by Greg Boone.
He was awarded a $50,000 contract to assess the hospital's information technology department, which resulted in a 30-minute computer slide show of what the IT department already knew, Mitchell said.
Boone received a $286,000 contract to develop a project manager's office, despite one existing at the county, and another $900,000 contract to implement the office, the prosecutor said.
That third contract was rejected before getting approval but was revised to $486,000.
That contract was terminated when Thomas was fired in January 2007, but the total payout to Boone and his company was more than $800,000. The only thing to show for it was the 30-minute slide show, Mitchell said.
In another example, Thomas directed a hospital contract to Crystal Communications in Chicago to assess the hospital's phone system. The initial contract of $24,450 fell under the $25,000 limit that requires commission approval, Mitchell said.
That contract was soon followed by a $145,000 contract to handle implementation of the phone system for the hospital's northeast tower project, which was being built.
That contract did go to bid, but Thomas chose Crystal Communications over a local company despite a bid of about $30,000 less.
"The old friend of Lacy Thomas, from Chicago, got that bid," Mitchell said.
Thomas' lawyer said the contracts went through the proper processes, even getting County Commission approval when necessary.
Albregts acknowledged that Thomas "pushed the envelope on how to run a hospital" but made clear to his legal advisers not to cross the line of legality.
Thomas never gave contracts to anyone simply because they were friends, and nobody ever raised any questions about the legality of the contracts when they were being approved, Albregts said.
To further his point, Albregts noted that none of the contractors was charged as part of any theft, and he accused prosecutors of pressing the case so they could justify the 16-month investigation by Las Vegas police, he said.
"They say the truth will set you free," Albregts told the jury. "The truth here is no crime was committed, and the truth should set Lacy Thomas free."
Contact reporter Brian Haynes at email@example.com or 702-383-0281.